When I stayed at The Menjangan, an eco resort in the West Bali National Park, I had an opportunity to have a frank discussion with the manager about the challenges of running eco-branded property in developing countries.
To start with, there is no doubt the people of West Bali care deeply about the environment. Ten years ago the local fishing community decided to stop fishing (often with dynamite) and concentrate on running diving and snorkelling trips. The result is the healthiest coral and most abundant sealife in Bali.
The Menjangan – run by the Lifestyle Retreats group – is a sensitively constructed, responsibly-run resort that works proactively for the conservation of the national park. This property is the only property to have a license to operate within the park itself.
However, as the manager pointed out, he can ensure eco standards are maintained within the resort but, for example, once carefully recycled waste leaves the property, there is no control over how Bali deals with it.
The park is home to a lot of significant wildlife, such as deer, macaques, monkeys, wild pigs and many birds, including the endangered Bali Starling. But a wild pig is worth 3 million rupiyah dead – up to three months’ wages for some Balinese – and if the pigs happen to wander out of the park…
So the environmental motivation is there, if not always the knowledge, or the public infrastructure. I suspect such challenges arise for eco businesses in many parts of the world.
What is West Bali National Park like? And how about staying at The Menjangan?
It is difficult to be prepared for what the park is like. The best way I can think to say is that when I arrived I thought I had been transported from tropical Bali across continents to Africa.
The jungle is made up of primarily deciduous trees that are quite bare in the dry season, making for great wildlife viewing conditions. The accommodation is lodge-style and tucked gently into the landscape. There are horse riding, mountain biking and bird watching tours available.
The only obvious architectural feature is the Bali Tower, a thatch-roofed building that offers blissful breakfasts on the deck and stunning sunsets over the savannah, the Bali Sea and the mountains of Java.
Safari vehicles transport guests between the various parts of the park and I saw tiny brown Barking Deer, and the large soft-gray Menjangan Deer browsing in the undergrowth. A sparkling blue Kingfisher swooped through the trees to alight near the track.
Down at the beach there are loungers, private pavilions, lanterns and a romantic restaurant. While I was waiting for my food a Menjangan deer and her fawn came picking their way through the mangrove shallows under a starry sky and crescent moon.
The Blue Illusion dive centre offers a full range of services, including boat trips to the excellent ‘house reef’ in Banjul Bay and also to Menjangan Island. As promised it is a lovely reef, with hardly any of the dead coral I have seen in Thailand and other parts of Asia.
Clown fish ducked in and out of their swaying anemones, Parrot fish swayed up from the depths, and the coral is subtle colours of lemon and pink, with the occasional splash of amethyst.
The West Bali National Park is several worlds away from the over-developed horrors of south-east Bali and it is good to know that there is an eco-resort partnering with the locals to keep it that way.